Whistleblowing usually has its equal share of ups and downs, except for Bruce Eklund, the former Seattle Municipal Court worker who helped expose a clandestine court scheme to lower parking fines in 2004, then was fired by the presiding judge, Fred Bonner. He had one up day--when he was awarded $460,000 in damages two years ago, payable by Bonner and the city. Since then, it's been down, down, down. A U.S. judge reduced the award, and last year a federal appeals court threw it out altogether. Following another (failed) appeal, the reversal became effective last month. And this month a Seattle federal judge issued orders that leave Eklund in the hole and score a rewarding turnaround for the judge who fired him.
In just one 18-month period, magistrates reduced fines by more than $1.5 million, some of which could have gone to save programs that were set for elimination, such as the Seattle Public Library's bookmobile. Said the Times:
Analysts working for the mayor repeatedly asked for information about fine reductions but were told by court officials that detailed records couldn't be produced. In one e-mail, a high-ranking court official told a subordinate she did not want city financial analysts "to poke around to try to confirm" information about fine reductions.
Eklund was among those who gave the information to other city officials. As a result, he said, he was fired by Bonner. The judge claimed Eklund was fired because he tried to manipulate payments on his own parking tickets--which Eklund denied.
In a confusing decision, a jury later decided Bonner rightly fired Eklund, yet awarded Eklund damages, feeling his right to due process was violated. Though news reports pegged the award to Eklund at almost a half-million dollars, Bonner (and the city) were also stuck with Eklund's attorney fees. According to court records, Bonner's total liability came to roughly $860,000.
But when the 9th Circuit federal appeals court reversed the outcome last November, finding Bonner had qualified immunity in the case, and the decision became final a few weeks ago, U.S. Judge Thomas Zilly on March 1 officially wiped out the bill to Bonner, who reamins a muni judge.
After years of battling in court and through appeals, Eklund wound up with no damages and no help with his legal fees, leaving him in the hole. And he's not done yet.
A new bill, submitted by the city attorney, asks for $667 in costs for printing up some court documents. If approved by the judge at a hearing next week, the bill--insult to injury--would go to Eklund.
Moral of the story: If you've got a whistle, whatever you do, don't fuggin' blow it!